Extreme electricity demand this summer could lead to blackouts, expert warns

Relying on renewable power sources to avoid blackouts as energy demand peaks at an expected once-in-a-decade high this summer could prove a risky strategy, an expert has warned.[1][2]

The warning comes after the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) released its report last week outlining how it would meet the country’s power needs this summer, in what is expected to be a period of “extreme demand”.

“This year’s summer forecast is for hot and dry El Niño conditions, increasing the risk of bushfires and extreme heat, which could see electricity demand reach a one-in-10-year high across the eastern states and in Western Australia,” AEMO executive general manager operations, Michael Gatt, said.[3]
The demand on Australia's energy system is expected to hit a once-in-a-decade high this summer.
The demand on Australia’s energy system is expected to hit a once-in-a-decade high this summer. (Nine / iStock)

The market operator has confirmed it is making offers to industrial power users to cut their use and reduce the likelihood of blackouts at a time when many Australians are expected to switch on their air conditioners.

Gatt said Australia’s energy sector was also in a much better position than last year due to additional wind and solar capacity added to the system.

Compared to last summer in the national energy market, an average 1500 megawatts (MW) of scheduled generation and an extra 2000MW of generation capacity from new wind and solar projects will be available this summer.

In the wholesale electricity market, nearly 50MW of extra scheduled generation is expected to be available.

“The increase in generation availability and additional reserves being procured will help navigate reliability pressures, should they eventuate,” Gatt said.

However, electrical and biomedical engineering professor Lasantha Meegahapola, from RMIT University, said while renewables could help reduce the likelihood of blackouts, they came with weaknesses that needed to be taken into account.

“The amount of energy produced by these renewable power sources is significantly lower compared to traditional generators, since they can only produce power when there’s wind and sun,” Meegahapola said.

“Relying too much on these generation sources is too risky without a large storage capacity built into the network.”

Extra reserves of renewable energy will help the system cope with extreme demand this summer, the energy operator says.
Extra reserves of renewable energy will help the system cope with extreme demand this summer, the energy operator says. (Nine / iStock)

Careful planning was needed to best use additional wind and solar generators while coordinating with energy storage systems, Meegahapola said.

“As we move towards a low-carbon power grid, the network requires more storage capacity to firm the output of the wind and solar energy generators,” he said.

Community or neighbourhood batteries and microgrids could form part of the solution, Meegahapola said.

A community battery is an energy storage system which allows excess solar electricity from local households and businesses, or the electricity supply network, to be stored for later use.

“These solutions would help us construct a more robust power grid that can cope with extreme weather conditions,” Meegahapola said.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology’s long-range forecast for the summer, released last Thursday, above-average temperatures are expected from December to February.

“December to February maximum and minimum temperatures are at least 2.5 times more likely than normal to be unusually high for much of Australia,” the bureau said. 

Energy Minister Chris Bowen said preparations were underway to prepare for the surge in energy demand.

“Across governments, AEMO and the energy sector, we are working to ensure we are as best prepared as we can be for summer,” Bowen said last week. 

“Last financial year, AEMO issued connections approvals for 6.8 gigawatts of new generation up from 4.2GW in the previous financial year.”


  1. ^ power sources (www.9news.com.au)
  2. ^ energy demand peaks (www.9news.com.au)
  3. ^ hot and dry El Niño conditions (www.9news.com.au)

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